When a tsunami surged through the Fukushima nuclear power plant, cutting its systems and leaving an overheated wreck, many people wanted nothing more to do with nuclear energy. Inherently unsafe, they said. To nuclear's fans, however, the disaster was more like a challenge: Find a reactor design that isn't so vulnerable to freak events.
The latest idea is to put the plant where it can't contaminate farmland and isn't likely to be overrun by tsunami-sized waves. Scientists at MIT are proposing a nuclear station five to nine miles out to sea, something that floats by using technology borrowed from oil and gas rigs.
Here is MIT professor Jacopo Buongiorno discussing the concept:
The main core of the reactor would be well below the waterline, so overheating would be next to impossible. If a disaster did strike, the ocean would do the job that Fukushima's electrical systems couldn't. Plus, says Buongiorno, building at sea would probably be cheaper. You wouldn't have to buy any real estate or placate locals through long environmental impact studies. You would build the whole plant in a yard somewhere and float it into place, connecting up a line to transfer electricity to land.
(A Russian group proposed something similar last year, though that concept is more like a barge and would be much closer to land).
Skeptical? Of course. An accident on a floating nuclear rig might make BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe seem like a minor disturbance. But then, if you really care about climate change, you do have to at least consider nuclear's low-carbon potential. A floating nuclear plant may be crazy (think of the proliferation risk!). But then dismissing a serious proposal out-of-hand isn't particularly responsible either.